Government’s Pledge for More Alzheimer’s Disease Research Funds Holds Promise

Eric J. Hall Health Guide
  • The only way to fight Alzheimer's disease, to fight any disease, is to put money behind it. We've seen that with cancer, with HIV/AIDs-and, now, we're starting to see it with Alzheimer's disease.

    The federal government's announcement that it will redirect $50 million into Alzheimer's disease research this year and its inclusion of more than $100 million in additional funds in its proposed 2013 fiscal year budget for both research and supportive services is a step toward our nation's goal to prevent, delay and ultimately cure Alzheimer's disease, and help care for families facing this heartbreaking brain disorder.

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    While there are, of course, much bigger coffers we need to fill for this cause, the capital infusion is welcome "seed" money given the government's fiscal constraints and the uncertain economy. And it adds weight to the current efforts by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to develop a historic national strategy to defeat Alzheimer's disease.

    At about the same time that HHS was announcing the additional funding, an e-mail from a desperate caregiver crossed my desk that shouted the urgency of the issue. Speaking about her husband, she wrote, "He has gotten worse with the Alzheimer's disease that continues to take him down. My heart is just breaking so bad. Please, please, help." Her appeal: To drive home the message to government officials that we must "expedite the cure" for Alzheimer's disease.

    The Administration's pledge of allegiance to the Alzheimer's disease cause sheds a ray of hope for families currently experiencing the harsh toll of this disease and the countless Americans who are yet to be diagnosed.

    It is what Americans have been waiting for. It is what the Alzheimer's Foundation of America (AFA) has been aggressively advocating for. In May 2011, AFA released a report, "Penny Wise, Pound Foolish," that highlighted our nation's "miniscule" investment in research of aging-related chronic conditions, including Alzheimer's disease, in stark contrast to the rapidly rising costs of healthcare for the aging.

    "While the cost of doing research on diseases and conditions of aging has increased
    over time and while scientific discoveries have been significant, the underinvestment in
    these diseases has created a grave and growing threat to American families and our
    healthcare system, as well as a substantial risk that geriatric researchers will move on
    to other areas of science with greater prospects for funding," the report warned.

    The federal government's current investment at the National Institutes of Health in Alzheimer's disease research is $450 million annually, compared to Alzheimer's disease care costs estimated at $172 billion per year.

    Research takes on increasing significance as the aging population portends a "silver tsunami" of Americans with Alzheimer's disease and a resulting escalation in healthcare costs. If history has taught us anything, it is that medical breakthroughs, like those seen with polio and HIV/AIDS, can slash healthcare dollars for families, businesses and government while also reducing mortality and morbidity. Advances in chronic diseases that impact the aging population could save the government trillions of dollars by the middle of the century.

  • Reflecting on this bigger picture, it is critical that we build on the current momentum. We anxiously await the HHS draft plan on the national Alzheimer's plan expected to be released this month, and, in the months ahead, Congressional action on increased Alzheimer's disease research dollars in the 2013 budget so that our nation keeps moving in the right direction.

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Published On: February 09, 2012